Bombs in Paris (1986)

Updated: Mar 20

In 1986, I was living in Luxembourg and playing rugby for the Rugby Clube de Luxembourg. In February, we were invited on tour to play the Orsay Rugby Club in Paris. This was a great weekend and I think that this was one of the first, if not the first, games that we won on tour.

Heidi, my then American girlfriend, joined me in Paris on the Sunday evening. We had planned to make use of the fact I was in Paris to do some sightseeing. On Monday 3 February, we toured Paris. We visited the Eiffel Tower, wandered down the Champs Elysees and saw the sights. We were having a great time.

On Tuesday, we explored more of Paris on foot and walked for miles. Needing a rest before we went out to dinner, we went back to the hotel, which was next to the Gilbert-Jeune bookstore in Place St Michel. Our room was on the third or fourth floor and had French windows that overlooked the street.

As we rested, Heidi wrote a comforting letter to her mother, who was concerned about her safety having read reports of bomb attacks in Europe. Heidi reassured her that we were both very safe in Paris. We then settled down for a snooze.

Our afternoon nap was rudely interrupted by a very large bang, Heidi sat up and declared that it was a bomb. Sleepily, I said "I am sure it was not a bomb".

Even as I spoke, I replayed my memory of what I had just heard...there was a very loud bang, the sound of breaking glass and then the sound of at least one person screaming.

Heidi had been right. It had been a bomb. I rushed to the French windows to see if I could see what had happened. They had been just ajar and were now wide open. Heidi suggested I put some clothes on.

The bomb had exploded in the Gilbert-Jeune bookshop next door, which was on fire. Smoke was filling the street and almost reaching our window. Sensible as ever, Heidi suggested that I did not get inhale the smoke and closed the window.

We were told to evacuate the hotel until the fire was under control.

The French newspapers were full of stories about the bomb and the fire that followed. They also revealed that our sightseeing on the Monday had been more eventful than we had realised.

We had narrowly missed a bomb in the Claridge shopping arcade on the Champs Elysees which had injured eight, five seriously. The attack was claimed by Committee for Solidarity with Arab and Middle East Political Prisoners, who had demanded freedom for the Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Factions leader.

We were also unaware of that there had been a bomb in the Eiffel tower at the time of our visit and that the bomb had subsequently been defused.

The explosion and fire at Gilbert-Jeune bookstore on Left Bank had injured four people and was also claimed by the Committee for Solidarity.

This was not quite the romantic time in Paris that we had planned, but it was at least memorable.

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